Scientists restore vision in blind mice using gold and titanium nanowire arrays

A new study from scientists in China suggests that medical devices could one day restore vision to the blind.

Researchers developed artificial photoreceptors based on gold nanoparticle-decorated titania nanowire arrays to restore visual responses in the blind mice.
Researchers developed artificial photoreceptors based on gold nanoparticle-decorated titania nanowire arrays to restore visual responses in the blind mice.


A team of scientists in China just took a big step toward developing technology that could one day restore vision to the blind.

Researchers at Fudan University and the University of Science and Technology of China recently published a paper in the journal Nature Communications that outlines how they used artificial photoreceptors to restore vision to blind mice.

Photoreceptors are structures that translate light into neural signals for the brain. They’re able to do this because they contain chemicals that change when hit with photons, which produces an electrical signal that’s sent to the brain along the optic nerve.

For the study, the team genetically engineered a group of mice to develop progressively degraded photoreceptors, similar to eye diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration in humans. This left the mice’s eyes and visual processing systems intact but rendered visual signals unable to reach the brain.

 This illustration from the paper shows, from left to right, an eye, a retina with healthy photoreceptors, and a retina with a nanowire array.

Researchers then replaced the degraded photoreceptors with artificial ones made from tiny nanowire that was “decorated” with gold nanoparticles. This material was chosen by researchers because of its “high surface areas, large charge transport mobility, excellent biocompatibility and stability.”

Like natural photoreceptors, these nanowire arrays were placed in physical contact with retinal cells and were able to transport electrical impulses to the visual cortex. The team verified this by measuring activity in the mice’s visual cortexes after shining light onto their eyes, and by observing dilation in their pupils.

Compared to mice in the control group, the once-blind mice were able to respond to light of similar intensity, though their artificial photoreceptors could only sense green, blue and light near ultraviolet spectrum. Of course, it’s impossible to say for sure what the mice were seeing.

The technique used in the study was experimental, and even if it’s proven to be safe and effective for humans, it’ll take years before it’s available to the wider public. Still, the results suggest hope for the idea that medical devices may one day restore vision to people for whom it’s slipped away.


Live on Thursday: Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Airspeeder's ‘flying car’ racers to be shielded by virtual force-fields

Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.

Credit: Airspeeder
Technology & Innovation
  • Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
  • The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
  • The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Keep reading Show less

A new minimoon is headed towards Earth, and it’s not natural

Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.

Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Paitoon Pornsuksomboon/Shutterstock/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • Small objects such as asteroids get trapped for a time in Earth orbit, becoming "minimoons."
  • Minimoons are typically asteroids, but this one is something else.
  • The new minimoon may be part of an old rocket from the 1960s.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Can we resurrect the dead? Researchers catalogue potential future methods

    From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.

    Credit: Pixabay
    Mind & Brain
    • Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
    • The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
    • Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
    Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast